Goldenrod: Buzzing Pollinator Wildflower or Seasonal Allergy Nuisance?
Goldenrod (Solidago spp) is enjoyed by many pollinators across North America in the late summer/early fall season, with its golden blooms that add a burst of sunshine to the meadows, forest edges, roadsides, open fields, and trailsides. Its leaves are also consumed by deer, rabbits, and turkey, and songbirds enjoy the plentiful seeds over the winter. Goldenrod is abundant wherever you find it, and has really expanded its range stretching across North America, Asia, Europe, and even North Africa.
A bee enjoying goldenrod flowers
There are about 100 different species of goldenrod. It heavily relies on its pollinators to spread, but can also spread through other ways such as underground rhizomes that form dense colonies. Fun fact, Canada goldenrod is a species that is enhanced after a fire and is regenerated from seeds stored in the soil and underground rhizomes. Goldenrod is an herbaceous perennial that’s shade tolerant but prefers sun, allowing it to grow to heights up to 6 feet tall with many bright yellow composite flowers atop.
Traditionally, Goldenrod or Solidago – meaning “to make whole” – was and still is used for its wound-healing properties as a topical application, and can even be made into tea. But Goldenrod has received some bad press as well from those who experience symptoms of seasonal allergies. Here’s the confusion: Goldenrod grows alongside another plant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) which is wind-pollinated and causes airborne seasonal allergies. Goldenrod, on the other hand, has pollen that is too heavy to float so it doesn’t cause allergies. People commonly blame Goldenrod because of its bright yellow flowers while looking over the dull green flowers of Ragweed which are the actual culprit.
Goldenrod in Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum meadow
Ragweed sighting on my recent herb walk (notice the color and foliage differences)
Upon looking closely we can see these plants don’t look alike at all, and they can be easily spotted in meadows with their different growth patterns. Goldenrod is bright and upright, stretching from hip height to 6 feet tall. Ragweed can grow to similar heights, but has dull green flowers and spreads wide with trilobed leaves, or leaves that produce three separate lobes.
Lastly, if you’re thinking of harvesting the abundance of goldenrod for use, be sure you know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for because goldenrod has poisonous lookalikes such as the groundsels (Senecio species). So do a little research. And remember, plants are not just here for human consumption, but they are a part of an ecosystem and have many roles and uses for that ecosystem.
Written by Jamal D. Smith-Bey
Published September 17, 2020